Australia: First cannabis crop harvested at Tamworth with custom machine

ABC News Australia reports

Sprawling across 180 hectares, one of eastern Australia’s largest industrial cannabis crops has been harvested for the first time and cutting it has been no small feat.

The crop was planted in October less than 10 kilometres from the middle of Tamworth, in north-west NSW, on council-leased land that only uses wastewater for irrigation.

The initiative is normally used to grow lucerne hay or cotton, but the hemp crop has yielded an estimated bail of up to 14 tonnes per hectare.

Qurindi chaff and hay grower David Wallace said he had been waiting for just such an opportunity.

“We’ve been bagging hemp for other growers for quite a while at Manuka Farm, but only in small parts,” Mr Wallace said.

“It wasn’t until we got the opportunity to lease the reuse farm with the amount of water needed to grow it to an industrial scale that we took it on.

“There’s been medicinal hemp, recreational hemp, and all of them have been growing in the background for many years.

But we hope that this is a stepping stone to make it into an industrial scale for eastern Australia.

The corner of a large marijuana crop.
The crop is less than 10 kilometres from the city centre.(ABC New England North West: Lara Webster)

Although the cannabis plant uses the same amount of water as lucerne and cotton, Mr Wallace said the challenge of growing it on wastewater was to use all of its resources.

“We have to use a set amount of water every month, which we need to use all of, so we’ll now have a cropping rotation and resow the cannabis in October.”

An irrigation tap over a cannabis crop.
As part of Tamworth Council leasing its land, all of the monthly allowance of water must be used.(ABC New England North West: Kemii Maguire)

The plant has been pre-sold to textile operations, which will mill its fibres to use for clothing and building materials.

Mr Wallace said the plant could be used for “anything”.

“You have hemp in concrete, clothing — even Mercedes car panelling has it, because it’s flame proof,” he said.

A bearded man in a hat standing in front of a harvester.
Ian Wise first harvested cannabis 17 years ago, but never on such a scale.(Supplied)

A new leaf for harvesters

The harsh, bamboo-like texture of cannabis may have handled the wet summer of Tamworth, but ordinary machinery could not handle it.

Two years ago, contract harvester Ian Wise was asked if he could find a way to bring the crop in.

“When I was asked if I could cut it, I sort of thought to myself, ‘That’s a challenge,'” he said.

“We’ve had to redesign the entire process because it’s fibre, so it’s got a tough centre stalk and grows above your head.”

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